The past decade has been exceptionally remarkable in terms of rise of feminist cinema. The arrival of independent female directors and filmmakers to non-English parts of the world has been a welcome change from stories about oppression which revolved around the male protagonist. The following list contains movies from diverse regions of the world, each retelling the tale of womanhood, sexuality, power, and desire from a unique lens.
Mustang, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Turkey, 2015
Nominated for the Best Foreign Film at the 2016 Oscars, Mustang is set in a remote Turkish village and revolves around the lives of five orphaned sisters. These young women battle their conservative relatives who are trying to make suitable brides out of them. This raw exploration of patriarchy is done from the point of view of the youngest sister, enriching the storytelling monumentally. Mustang is an illuminating watch, and is bound to leave you feeling more enlightened.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Celine Sciamma, France, 2019
In 18th century France, a painter is commissioned to do a wedding portrait of a young woman by her mother. The story unfolds as both women develop a deep fondness for each other. The mesmerising cinematography enriches this passionate and heart wrenching lesbian love story, transfixing the audience to the screen. Portrait of a Lady on Fire feels like a warm coffee on a cold, rainy Sunday morning, and has certainly earned its cult like fan-base.
The Red Phallus, Tashi Gyeltshen, Bhutan, 2018
Shot in the beautiful landscapes of Bhutan, this movie encapsulates the gendered nature of loneliness with a haunting precision. Phallus worship in Bhutan has a strong historic and spiritual significance. The protagonist is 16 year old Sangay who lives with her father, a craftsman of phalluses. Sangay is constantly trying to run away from her solitude, but the colossal mountains and the phallic symbols that surround her prove to be inescapable. The Red Phallus is poetry on screen.
Rafiki, Wanuri Kahiu, Kenya, 2018
Caught between political rivalries and disapproving parents, Kena and Ziki’s intense love story unfolds in Nairobi, Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal. Rafiki’s lively and colourful cinematography is in sharp contrast with its dark theme, providing the perfect balance to the movie. Although it is banned in Kenya, this lesbian love story was long overdue from African cinema.
Pariah, Dee Rees, USA, 2011
A pioneer of African-American cinema, Pariah examines sexuality and culture with a delicate yet undaunted clarity. 17 year old lesbian Alike deals with everything from gender performance and coming out, to first kiss and heartbreak. Her mother’s disapproval of her life choices is an honest insight into the rejection so many young lesbians go through. Despite its heavy theme, Pariah will leave you with a strange warmth that only comes with the realization that eventually all things will sort themselves out.
Misbehavior, Philippa Lowthorpe, UK, 2020
A refreshing break from emotionally charged feminist movies, Misbehavior is a British comedy that tells the story of the infamous 1970 Miss World competition. With the rise of the second wave of feminism in 60s and 70s, Women’s Liberation groups grew increasingly aware of the harms caused by the beauty industry to women and the feminist cause. A saturation point arrived when a group of women invaded the stage of the Miss World Competition, disrupting the live broadcast. The movie recalls these events with a quirky charm.
Angry Indian Goddesses, Pan Nalin, India, 2015
At first glance, Angry Indian Goddesses seems like a Sex and the City esque female centered comedy drama. A group of friends meet in Goa for a wedding, and conversations around desires, passions, and fear unfold. As the movie progresses, deeper themes of hetero-patriarchy reveal themselves. Women’s rage is usually demonized and belittled by patriarchy, a stereotype this movie’s climax develops on.
Although most of these movies are critically acclaimed, this is not an exhaustive list. Please feel free to add more recommendations in the comments below.